Office interior

Office use across Europe: are workplaces recovering?

Across Europe, Covid has had a profound impact on the way we live and work. Collectively we place much more of an emphasis on integrating the commodities of home working into our office models to attract workers back, writes Thomas Kessler.

But has that worked? Have people come back to the office? The data below, sourced from Locatee’s workplace analytics insights, paints a picture of the varying degrees of office attendance throughout Europe.

How has the UK adapted since ‘Freedom Day’ in July?

Office use in the UK Locatee

Office use in the UK; source: Locatee

Since the pandemic brought office use to a screeching halt, office workers in the UK have been making a very slow return to the workplace. While office occupancy is increasing, the data clearly illustrates that the return remains slow and gradual, potentially because workers have spent the pandemic accustoming themselves to the commodity of working from home.

As offices vie to create a more dynamic and employee-centric office space, for example by creating more immersive and collaborative co-working spaces and hotdesks, it will be interesting to see how office use increases. Current trends suggest there is an upward tick, albeit only slightly, suggesting that workers may be beginning to adapt to a hybrid form of working.

Switzerland has the most dramatic swings in office occupancy

Across the course of the pandemic, Switzerland’s statistics varied greatly. After a peak late last summer, the Swiss spent most of winter 2020 and spring 2021 working from home. There has been a recent uptick in early September, but office attendance has plateaued since then at a third of what was seen in September 2020.

While office use in Switzerland has been higher on average than the UK’s throughout the course of the pandemic – notably last September when Switzerland was at 45% and the UK at 8% – it is now only two percentage points above the UK’s.

Office use in Europe Locatee

Office use across Europe; source: Locatee

Germany and France are on a steeper upward trajectory

Since 9 September, when office use in France and Germany was 8% and 10% respectively, office use has been on a sharper increase than in other countries, especially compared to Spain whose numbers are actually decreasing.

Throughout the pandemic, Germany consistently had the highest percentage of in-office attendance, but since September it has really begun to pick up. This could be due to a multitude of factors including high vaccination rates, lower cases than other countries and, potentially, a more effective and comprehensive hybrid working model that enables workers to pick and choose the days that they come into the office.

In the case of Germany and Switzerland, this increase can be attributed to cultural differences. Pre-pandemic, both countries had a higher average office attendance than the UK; in both regions, office work was more commonplace and remote working ranked lower than in other countries.

France is actually experiencing higher office occupancy at the moment than Germany. Clearly French companies are keen to see their workers back in person, and the figures show that these numbers are steadily increasing to 25% – though still well below the pre-pandemic peak of 60%. While this represents a drop in numbers, it does show that France and Germany may be more effectively readjusting and realigning to the hybrid working world.

Spain is seeing a dip in office use

Spain has seen a markedly sharper drop in office occupancy, going against wider trends in office use. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Spain’s peaks and troughs were varied and have gradually decreased: for example, office use peaked on 7 September 2021 at 35%, the highest figure since the pandemic started.

This could be due to myriad reasons, but the fact that Spain’s office attendance is decreasing against a regional uptick could point to the difficulty it is having with adjusting to hybrid working or attracting office workers back in.

Key takeaways

Office occupancy is picking up in the majority of surveyed countries, potentially due to wide-reaching national vaccine programmes proving effective. However, it is important to take the bigger picture into consideration. As work culture has changed so dramatically over the past 18 months, attitudes towards the office have undoubtedly followed. Physical space needs to reflect the priorities of the people using it.

While Western Europeans have differed in their approach to office use over the pandemic, it is interesting to see the rates of attendance among workers from different nationalities slowly aligning. This could signify that attitudes towards the office are evening out, meaning European professionals are adopting new practices that inform their relationship with the physical workplace in a somewhat uniform manner. It will be interesting, moving forward, to see how countries across Europe continue to realign themselves with the hybrid world of working, and how office managers can attract workers back into the office.

The graphs point to the need for office managers to make use of data to make decisions about office space and how to attract workers back safely. Seeing data in a holistic way will help office managers understand how their office is being used, meaning they can adapt the spaces to best suit employees and people. As more and more offices welcome back employees, senior management must make informed and intelligent decisions from data insights.

Thomas Kessler is founder and CEO of Locatee

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